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Sheep Keeping Grass Under Control At OCI Solar "Farm" In San Antonio

OCI Solar Power thought of an idea that leaders there say is sheer genius. They've put sheep to work on the grounds of a solar farm on the far northeast side to keep the grass cut.

As solar panels soak up plenty of hot Texas sunshine, there's plenty landscaping work to do at the Alamo 2 Solar Farm off Binz-Engleman near North Foster Road. But instead of people, OCI Solar Power is employing lambscapers.

"This was a good test site," said OCI Solar Power spokesperson Sara Krueger. "It was a little bit smaller and it had really nice grass growing under the panels so it gave us a really good opportunity to see how well sheep really could maintain the lawn and keep grass out of the way of the equipment."

The company started using sheep three months ago to maintain the grass at the 50-acre site. It's the first time in Texas this has been done although it's nothing new in California and Europe, Krueger said.

Alamo 2 is a smaller-scale solar farm but a big job for any mower. The sheep don't seem to mind having plenty to eat, though, and they can get to those hard to reach places and maneuver around the panels.

"You know, it's been going really well," said Krueger. "We have actually seen the lawn here at the site maintained very well and it's an interesting concept because of the shape of the equipment, it can be difficult to get traditional mowers around the equipment so the sheep do a great job because they have a lot more flexibility than a traditional mower."

In certain areas, the grass is tall because of the recent rains. But the 90 sheep are able maintain the property pretty well. It's evident, Krueger said, because none of the grass reaches the height of any of the 18,000 panels.

"When you have vegetation growing over the panels then you start losing efficiency," she said. "And so the sheep are really important to help this site put out the maximum power that it can."

The site puts out enough energy to power about 1,000 homes. The test project is going well, and so OCI is considering placing sheep at Alamo 1, a 450-acre site south of town.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.